Dispatches from #BookFest 2014

by Kim on April 16, 2014 · 4 comments

bookfest collage 1

Whew! It’s been about 24 hours since I finally made it back to Minnesota from my weekend in Los Angeles for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and I’m just starting to get my thoughts together. Rather than a lot of words, I’ve got a photo-heavy post to try and share some of the highlights of the trip.

1. I left for LA early on Friday morning from the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, fortified with black tea and a good book (Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates). I flew out of a fancy gate — there were plenty of tables with iPads on them so you could order food and track your flight.

2. I arrived in LA around lunch Friday where I was picked up by Florinda (The 3R’s Blog). We immediately headed to Venice Beach so I could wiggle my toes in the sand and walk in the (chilly!) Pacific Ocean. After a scenic drive home along the Pacific Coast Highway, we went out to dinner with Florinda’s husband, Tall Paul. I’m so glad they were gracious enough to host me for the weekend.

bookfest collage 2

3. Our first event on Saturday morning, the first day of the festival, was a panel with Sheri Fink (Five Days at Memorial), Charlie LeDuff (Detroit: An American Autopsy) and Amy Wilentz (Farewell, Fred Voodoo). All three of their books focused on places in crisis — New Orleans, Detroit and Haiti — so much of the discussion was about journalism and the role that writers have in telling these stories. After each panel, the authors were available to sign their books and chat for a few minutes. I love this inscription from Sheri Fink so much.

4. The second event we went to was a conversation with B.J. Novak (Ryan from The Office and author of One More Thing). While we were waiting in line to get books signed, we met up with Anastasia (Here There Be Books) for a few minutes before she had to catch a train. Anastasia and I roomed together when we went to Book Expo America in 2011, so it was great to see her.

5. When I finally got to meet B.J. Novak, I was a total spaz. I almost skilled getting a picture because it seemed too silly, but then figured what the heck. He doesn’t look nearly as excited (or sunburned) as I do!

6. One of the cool parts of the festival (among many cool things) were the giant crossword puzzles around the campus. Florinda filled out quite a few answers on one of them.

bookfest collage 3

7. On Sunday, we got to the festival a little later than we planned and missed out first panel. That turned out to be fortuitous, however, since it meant we got to spend a little extra time at the Chronicle Books booth. After I found a copy of Beth Kephart’s Going Over, Florinda got to talking with some of the publicists working the booth about the book and her friendship with Beth. It was really fun — I love when publishers are excited and nerdy with book bloggers.

8. We also bought enough books from Chronicle Books to get a free tote. It is a nice one!

9. We made it to two panels on Sunday. The first was a panel about food culture with authors Gustavo Arellano and Dana Goodyear and food critic Jonathan Gold. This panel, we learned, was the first one to sell out at the festival, which made it feel more exciting! There was a lot of discussion about how high-end food is becoming more extreme, while the American palate is starting to explore different tastes.

Our second panel, which I didn’t grab a picture of, featured more nonfiction writers: Tom Bissell, Dana Goodyear (again), Edward Humes and Greg Sestero. This panel, called “Nonfiction: Exploring a Singular Pursuit,” was more of a general discussion about books on obsession and the obsession of writing. My favorite observation came from Tom Bissell: When you start a book, you want it to be great. When you get to your deadline, you just want it to be done. Truer words were never spoken.

We spent the rest of Sunday meandering around the festival but I, unfortunately, got really lazy taking pictures and don’t have many more to share.

10. After another great dinner with Florinda and Paul (and a photo session in front of Florinda’s amazing wall of books), they dropped me off at LAX at about 9 p.m for my red-eye back to Minnesota. I got a few chapters of The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison done before I gave up on reading and finished listening to The Martian by Andy Weir.

So there you have it, some uncollected thoughts on my trip to BookFest 2014!


any anxious body illustration

Today I am excited to invite poet Chrissy Kolaya, a a good friend of mine, to the blog to help celebrate National Poetry Month. Chrissy is one of the local people that I get to completely nerd out about books with, and I love hearing her perspective on issues in publishing from her perspective as an author.

Last month, Chrissy published her first book of poetry, Any Anxious Body. To celebrate that accomplishment, I invited her to the blog as part of the National Poetry Month: Reach for the Horizon Blog Tour that Serena at Savvy Verse and Wit was wonderful enough to organize again. Make sure you check out the other posts this month and I hope you enjoy this Q&A!

What was the process for getting this book published? What has your experience been working with a small publishing house?

Publishing any kind of creative work is difficult these days. I sent this manuscript around to poetry presses and first book contests for seven years before it found a home. In the end, though, the publisher who liked the book, Broadstone Books, has turned out to be a dream-come-true to work with. Their editorial suggestions were spot on (I sometimes felt like my editor understood the book better than I did!), and, breaking with conventional publishing wisdom, they allowed me to be part of the cover design process, which meant that I ended up with a gorgeous cover image by a friend and colleague, Jess Larson.

Some of the poems are inspired by notes from your great grandmother and a letter from her daughter, your grandmother. How did you find these, and what inspired you to use them in this book?

I built the book around these two sets of notes. The first were really not much more than scribbles my great-grandmother made while in the hospital dying, communicating with her family, after she could no longer speak, on a small pad of paper that included at the end (in someone else’s handwriting) a list of the expenses for her funeral and her assets, all of which comes to a shortage of “$34.50” for each of her four children. Her own final note reads:

will never
pay for this”

The other inspiration is a long letter left behind by my grandmother, an attempt at explaining her life to her children, which captures her voice, her interior life, and her daily reality:

we had money to eat good”

My mother shared a copy of my grandmother’s letter with me years ago. We found the notes from my great grandmother while digging through an old suitcase full of family photos.

Both my grandmother and great-grandmother died long before I could get to know them, and as I thought about these women, I considered the difference between their educations and mine, between their work and life opportunities and mine, their voices and use of language, their struggles, the emotional experiences of their lives, and how I wouldn’t have had access to any of these interior lives if it hadn’t been for the accident in one case and the deliberate act in another of their words left behind.

I think it’s so important to remember that the recording of life stories is the privilege of those with the time and financial circumstances to do so, something neither of these women possessed, so I wanted to preserve and treasure these small pieces of poetry and narrative they both left behind as a record of their lives.

In addition to writing poetry and novels, you are creative writing professor at a small liberal arts college, wife and mother of two (awesome) boys. How do you make time for your writing among those other responsibilities?

For me, what has worked is figuring out the kind of work I can get done in the time I have available. I’ve come to realize how valuable a spare 15 minutes can be! During the school year, I read for research, revise work, and attend to the “business” of writing—sending work out, applying for grants, etc. During the summers, when I’m not teaching a summer course, there’s more time to sink deeply into a big project.

What is the best piece of advice you have for aspiring writers?

I actually have two: be tenacious and be kind. Regarding tenacity, I like to share with my students the story of my most well-published story, one that Crazyhorse picked up and that made its way from there into an anthology called New Sudden Fiction. That story, though it eventually found two fantastic homes that brought it to the attention of more readers than I ever imagined, was rejected 15 times. I share this with students not to discourage them, but to give them an idea of the kind of tough skin you have to develop as a writer sending your work out into the world.

Regarding kindness, novelist Sandra Benitez once gave me and a group of writers some fantastically simple advice—just be a nice person. It’s pretty good advice for life in general, but especially in a field that can be so full of frustration and heartbreak. I’m teaching this semester from an outstanding Lance Olson book called Architectures of Possibility, and in it, he reminds us that just as important as the work we make is the work we support as, what he calls, “literary activists.” I love this idea of being aware of the many small ways we can support one another, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve been bowled over by the kindness and generosity of other writers.

What are you reading right now?

This is perhaps connected to your earlier question about time, but for a long while there, I was finding it difficult to find time for pleasure reading, until I realized I could listen to books while doing housework—folding laundry, making dinner, etc. So most of my pleasure reading these days is via audiobook, and the one I’m most excited about lately is Long Division by Kiese Laymon. I’m also reading for research on a novel project I’m working on, which has my desk piled high with a bunch of encyclopedias of cryptozoology and the memoir of Darwin’s granddaughter.


Leavin’ On a Jet Plane to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books!

April 10, 2014 Personal

As I have mentioned several times already,  I am leaving the Midwest behind tomorrow for a weekend of sun, sand and books in southern California. Fellow book blogger and dear friend Florinda (The 3R’s Blog) is letting me crash on her couch (and making sure I have sunscreen to wear) so we can go to […]

19 comments Read the full post →

Review: ‘The Remedy’ by Thomas Goetz

April 8, 2014 Book Review
Thumbnail image for Review: ‘The Remedy’ by Thomas Goetz

Title: The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis Author: Thomas Goetz Genre: Nonfiction Year: 2014 Publisher: Gotham Acquired: From the publisher for review consideration Rating: Review: Today, we accept without question that germs cause disease. We wash our hands to avoid harmful bacteria and get vaccinations for deadly diseases to […]

8 comments Read the full post →

Currently-ish | Ahead and Behind

April 6, 2014 Currently

Time and Place // 9:30 p.m. on Saturday in my office. Normally I sit down and write these posts on Sunday mornings, but I need to take a trip to the Twin Cities on Sunday to see my family. Rather that skipping a second week in a row, I’m drafting this Saturday night — that’s […]

18 comments Read the full post →

12 Excellent True Stories by Authors of Color

April 3, 2014 Narrative Nonfiction 5

This post originally appeared on Book Riot, but I’m proud of how it turned out and think it’s worth sharing here.  This year, Book Riot has made it a priority to read and share more books by authors of color. When we asked Riot readers to share their favorite authors of color, we got a great […]

18 comments Read the full post →

March 2014 Reading Wrap-Up and a Look to April

April 1, 2014 Musings
Thumbnail image for March 2014 Reading Wrap-Up and a Look to April

March has been a strange month. I’ve been feeling rather discombobulated for the last few weeks, which has made it difficult to read or, to be honest, focus on getting blog posts up and written. I’m not sure how that is all going to play out for April, but I’m optimistic. Overall, March was a […]

11 comments Read the full post →

Nonfiction Recommendation Engine: Part IV

March 28, 2014 Narrative Nonfiction 5

Hey, look! The Nonfiction Recommendation Engine is back, and this time with a snazzy new header. Thanks PicMonkey! With this feature, I ask readers to fill out a short list of questions that I’ll use to develop a couple of personalized book recommendations. But my real hope with the series is that other readers will jump in […]

18 comments Read the full post →

What Are Your Three Books?

March 26, 2014 Musings

Yesterday, NPR Books (via All Things Considered, I think) asked people a surprisingly awesome question about books: .@npratc wants to know: what 3 books summarize YOU? Make a snapshot of your life? Would let a bookshelf-spying stranger "get" you? #my3books — NPR Books (@nprbooks) March 25, 2014 I added my response to Twitter, but felt […]

21 comments Read the full post →

Bloggiesta Mini Challenge: Blog Post Bingo

March 26, 2014 Challenges

This post is part of the Bloggiesta, a weekend challenge where bloggers spend time on pesky blog tasks or work to get ahead on their blogging. This mini challenge is about thinking outside the box for better blog posts.  One of the biggest challenges for me as a blogger is staying motivated and excited about […]

30 comments Read the full post →